Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz. -- The crew chief looked over the corpsman's cables and connections one last time while inside the UH-1N "Huey" helicopter. Slowly the corpsmen steps out of the helicopter and prepares rappel 200 feet.
Lying below is a victim trapped between a crevice. In a matter of seconds, the corpsmen rappels off the helicopter and attaches the victim to another cord. After a thumbs up, the pilot pulls the helicopter up and evacuates both the corpsman and victim from the scene.
Search and Rescue personnel train every day, so when the time comes for a real-life rescue, the evolution flows smoothly.
The SAR training involves figuring out what type of training they would like to perform, whether they land the helicopter or perform a technical rescue, which means the crew chief or corpsman rappels to the ground while the helicopter stays in the air.
"We go out every day in order to maximize training," said Capt. Darren Alvarez, Headquarters & Headquarters Squadron SAR pilot. "It takes a while for everyone to be up to speed. For new pilots, it takes approximately three to six months for them to be fully trained; crew chief eight months and corpsmen around six months."
"A lot of the training we do provides reinforcement of our techniques," said Petty Officer 2nd Class, Brian Gerdes, SAR corpsman. "With the more training we do, it just becomes second nature after a while. So we are constantly training and broadening our scope of practice."
Because of the constant training, performing complicated rescues is not difficult, said Pfc. Eric Eskildsen, SAR crew chief.
"One of the rescues I was involved in, we had to perform technical rescues," added Eskildsen. "I was glad that we trained for this scenario because it actually happened. And because of the training, we got the patient out safely and expediently..."
Despite continual training, performing certain tasks is not always easy.
"It is hard to keep track of all the little things while the helicopter is hovering and the corpsman is rescuing a victim," said Eskildsen. "I have to make sure the pilot does not drift or climb, and I scan gauges to make sure the corpsman is not having any difficulties rescuing the victim. At this time, it is very important to keep situational awareness of the aircraft."
"The (helicopter) is not stabilized like other aircraft," explained Alvarez. "So it is very challenging to control while hovering. And especially during night rescues, when every thing you see during the day is reduced."
In addition to keeping track of all the intangibles of a helicopter, a SAR unit also has additional responsibilities.
"We are the most active Huey rescue station in the Marine Corps," said Alvarez. "Part of the reason is because we help civilians as well. Our primary mission is the military members, but we do help civilians when they need it."